By Yasar Kemal
From: Index on censorship No: 1-1995
One of the greatest tragedies in Turkey’s history is happening now. Apart from a couple of hesitant voices, no one is standing up and demanding to know what the Turkish goverment is doing, what this destruction means. No one is saying: “After all your signatures and promises you are riding towards doomsday, leaving the earth scorched in your wake. What will come of all this?”
Turkish governments have resolved to drain the pool to catch the fish; to declare all-out war. We have already seen how it can be done. The world is also aware of it. Only the people of Turkey have been kept in ignorance; newspapers have been forbidden to write about the drainage. Or maybe there was no need for censorship: maybe our press, with its sense of patriotism and strong nationalist sentiment, chose not to write about it assuming the world would neither hear nor see what was happening. The water was being drained in so horrendous a fashion that the smoke ascended to high heaven. But for our press, deceiving the world and our people – or, rather, believing they had succeeded in doing so – was the greatest act of patriotism, of nationalism. They were not aware that they had perpetrated a crime against humanity. Their eyes bloodshot, their mouths foaming, they were shouting with one voice: “We will not give one stone, one handful of soil.” Cries of “Oh God” rose upon the air. Dear loyal patriotic friends, no one wants a single stone, nor a handful of soil from us. Our Kurdish citizens want their language, their language and culture are being slaughtered. Our Kurdish brothers are now at war to win their rights. Those Turkish brothers with whom we have always been together in sorrow and in joy. During the War of Independence we fought shoulder to shoulder. We established this state together. Should a man cut out the tongue of his brother? Oh friend, is there anything in those declarations you signed – the UN Bill of Human Rights, the Council of Europe, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Helsinki Final Act – to say that if I give my people human rights they will demand their “independence”? Did you lay down such a condition? In those declarations you signed did it not say that every nation, every ethnic community should determine its own destiny? The water has begun to dry up. The house of nearly 2,000 villages have been burned. Many animals as well as people have been burned inside them. The world press has written about this, as well as our so nationalistic newspapers. Our ostriches still bury their heads in the sand. The country is awash with blood and how can our illustrious media remove its head from the sand? They burnt people too in many house… The draining of the waters has cost Turkey and humanity much. And looks like continuing to do so. Already over 1,700 people have been the victims of murder by persons unknown. Intellectuals in the west have begun to debate whether a new genocide is taking place; the possibility of a Human Rights Court for Turkey’s politicians and an economic boycott against Turkey is being discussed. Choose between these delightful alternatives! The most horrific aspect is the inhumanity of outright war for the sake of a few fish. They have burnt almost all the forests of eastern Anatolia because guerrillas hide out in them. Turkey’s forests have been burning for years. Not much that could be called forest is left and we are burning the remainder to catch fish. Turkey is disappearing in flames along with its forests, anonymous act of genocide, and 2,5 million people exiled from their homes, their villages burnt, in desperate poverty, hungry and naked, forced to take to the road, and no one raises a finger.
Turkey’s administrators have got so carried away that intellectual crimes have been regarded as among most serious; people have rotted away in prisons, been killed and exiled for such crimes. Today over 200 people are serving sentences for crimes of thought in our prisons. Hundreds more are on trial. Among these intellectual criminals are university lecturers, journalists, writers and union leaders. Conditions in the prisons are so fearsome that a country, a world, could sink into earth in shame. As if a racist, oppresive regime were not enough, there have been three military coups in 70 years. Each coup has made the Turkish people a little more debased, brought them a little lower. They have rotted from the root, with their culture, their humanity, their language. There is no reason at all for this inhuman, purposeless war in Anatolia. I repeat, the Kurds want nothing but human rights. They want to use their language, to have their identity restored, and develop their culture to the same extent as the Turkish people. You will ask if the Turkish people have these rights themselves. If things themselves. If things continue as they are, it will not be long before we encouter waves of resistance from the Turkish people. These 70 years have crushed all the people of Anatolia like a steamroller; not a blade of grass has grown in its path. For the moment, all we can ask is that all the Anatolian people be granted full human rights. These things I speak of have a single cause: to appropriate the liberty of the Anatolian people. This government has done everything it can to exploit the Anatolians, humiliate them and leave them hungry. There is nothing they have not suffered for the last 70 years. If they have managed to survive such a wind for so long, that is because the soil of Anatolia is so rich in culture. This world is a graveyard of wrecked languages and cultures. What cultures whose names and reputations we have never even heard of come and gone in this world? As a cultural mosaic, the cultures of Anatolia have been a source of modern cultures. If they had not tried to prohibit and destroy other languages and other cultures than those of the Turkish people, Anatolia would still make major contributions to world culture. And we would not remain as we are; a country half famished, its creative power draining away. The sole reason for this war is that cancer of humanity, racism. If this were not so, would it be possible for right- wing, racist magazines and newspapers to declare that “The Turkish race is superior to every other”? The brother of this statement is “Happy is he who calls himself a Turk”. I first went to eastern Anatolia in 1951, and saw that on the mountain sides everywhere they had written in enormous letters visible from a distance of three, five and ten kilometres, “Happy is he who calls himself a Turk”. They had embellished the slopes of Mount Ararat, too. The entire mountain had become happy to be Turkish. And worse even, they made the children declare: “I am a Turk, I am honest, I am hard-working”, every morning.
And much more is happening in Turkey! Having exiled 2,5 million people, now they have put an embargo on food in eastern Anatolia. No one who does not get a certificate from the police station can buy food, because the villagers give food to the guerrillas. The crops, nut and fruit trees of villagers who prefer exile to taking up arms to protect their village from guerrilla attack are burned along with the forests. Their animals are slaughtered. Why are the villages being burned and razed? So that they may not harbour guerrillas and be a source of food for them. From what we hear in Istanbul, the guerrillas receive their needs from the village watchmen. A few days ago the newspapers reported that guerrillas had stolen 700 sheep belonging to the village watchmen, the bastion of the state. There are 50,000 paid watchmen in eastern Anatolia; it is the slave of these people. They are the state in eastern Anatolia, they are everything. They can kill, destroy and burn. They recognise no rule of humanity and no law. What else is happening in Turkey? The village elders of Ovacik who said that soldiers had burnt their village were found dead in the burned forests nearby a few days later. The government minister [for human rights] Azimet Köylüo<eth>lu who had claimed that soldiers were burning villages went back on his words a few days later: “How can anyone say that the army is burning villages? It is the PKK.” And our “free newspapers” reported this. What else is happening in Turkey? I swear that the newspapers wrote this too. I was dumbfounded. Listen, in a district of Van they woke up one morning and found the town covered with red crosses. How could the newspaers resist such a piece of news? The SS had done the same. And there are no shepherds left in the mountains. They have killed the adult shepherds, and now they send children on the assumption that they won”t touch them. But a few days later they gather up the dead bodies of these tiny shepherds from the mountains. What else is happening in Turkey? God damn them, one is ashamed of being human. I will write this too. One morning a journalist friend of mine rang. We had worked together as journalists for years. “Do you know what is going on? he asked. “What?” I replied. “The police have taken away everone who works for Özgür Gündem newspaper.” I immediately went to the newspaper offices and saw that the police cordoned the building. I asked to go in but the police wouldn’t let me. There was no one left to produce the newspaper. They had taken all 120 employees in custody. They has even taken the poor tea boy. If it had been summer they would probably have been ordered to arrest the flies at the newspaper. That is enough. I cannot bring myself to talk longer about the historic achievement of the Turkish Republic. To battle against oppression in Turkey today is a challenge not everyone can take up. There is a risk of going hungry. It is a strong tradition in the Turkish Republic to make a mockery of its opponents. And, and, and, it is only at the risk of your life that you oppose the state today. The cost of opposing the Turkish-Kurdish War is heavy. What can we do but keep silent?
The coup of 12 september 1980 not only forced intellectuals to keep their heads down, not only threw hundreds of people into prison and tortured them. The entire country cowered in fear, was made degenerate and driven further from humanity. It made informers of ordinary citizens, created bloody wolf-mouthed confessors, and totally destroyed human morality. A country where universal morality has become atrophied is a patient in a coma. The Constitution which the leader of the coup Evren Pasha passed in the shadow of his weapons and bayonets was ratified by 90 per cent of the population in a referendum. For exactly 12 years Turkey has been governed according to this Constitution. Yes, Turkey has a parliament. Its parlementarians are like kittens, even when they catch them by the neck at the door of parliament and take them to prison. There is even a Constitutional Court. A Constitutional Court that, according to the Military Constitution, decides whether a law shall be enforced or not. Some people here are scared stiff of the military lauching a new coup. What difference does it make? A new coup would not lead to the abolition and repeal of the Evren Constitution. There will be no coup. There is no need for a coup. Some of my friends, my old journalist colleagues, friends whom I love and who don’t want anything to happen to me are anxious. Some say I am taking sides. What is more natural than for me to take sides? As long as I can remember I have been on the side of the peoples of Turkey. As long as I can remember I have been on the side of the oppressed, those treated unjustly, the exploited, the suffering and the poor. I am on the side of the Turkish, the language in which I write. I feel the obligation to do what I can, and what I can’t, to enrich and beautify Turkish. My greatest cause of anger against Kenan Pasa is his closure of the Turkish Language Institute.
Of course I take sides. For me the world is a garden of culture where thousand flowers grow. Throughout history all cultures have fed one another, been grafted onto one another, and in the process our world has been enriched. The disappearance of a culture is the loss of a colour, a different light, a different source. I am as much on the side of every flower in this thousand flower garden as I am on the side of my own culture. Anatolia has always been a mosaic of flowers, filling the world with flowers and light. I want it to be the same today. If the people of a country choose to live like human beings, choose happiness and beauty, their way lies first through universal human rights and then through universal, unlimited freedom of thought. The people of countries that have opposed this will enter the twenty first century without honour. Saving the honour and bread of our country, and the cultural wealth of its soil is in our hands. Either true democracy or…nothing!